As is true to our form, Joel and I sat frantically drafting emails and going over essays up until the final boarding call for our flight (the essay deadline being mid-air), until we could stretch the time no longer and had to get on the plane. A mighty relief swept over me when I hit ‘submit’ and then came the excitement – we are heading to Tromso, Norway!!! Way way way north. All the way north, it felt like to us. After some in-the-plane, on-the-runway delays – one of the pilots got sick and they had to quickly fly another arctic-circle-qualified pilot from Spain to London (Pilot: “those of you who’ve flown to the Arctic Circle will know what I’m talking about, and the rest will soon find out” – thanks for implanting in us a vision of a terrifying flight into the frozen tundra of doom, sir.) – we were off! And after a surprisingly pleasant flight we landed in what seemed like a parallel universe of snow and magic and dreams-come-true-ness. We flew through the tiny airport’s border control, picked up a rental car with ease, and 15 minutes later we entered the heat and coziness of our little Airbnb cottage.
Fast forward a few hours – isn’t it just the best when you arrive somewhere in the dark and wake up to the beauty in the morning?? – we woke up in what felt like a story book, our little yellow-roofed cottage buried in snow, breathing in air so fresh it feels like icy cold water down your throat. And then started a wonderful (long)weekend in Norway, and, because we made and learned from our rookie-mistakes, here follows our list of Do’s and Don’ts for amateurs in Norway.
DO rent a car
This is the best way to go Northern Lights hunting. The Northern Lights originate from the North (the clue is in the name), so basically checked the could coverage online and IRL, cross-referenced with Google Maps for drivable roads, and headed out with our little rental until we found a dark shoulder. We came upon the lights soon enough, though they were pretty weak and we were unable to take any photos. Still – it instilled a sure sense of hope after completely missing out on the lights on our Iceland trip.
DON’T expect to snap the Aurora Borealis on your iPhone
This just won’t work. We don’t travel around with big old proper cameras, simply for the ease of traveling lightly, but this might be one of those times you regret not having a big old proper camera on you.
DO eat at BURGR
It is a video-game-themed burger joint and it is INCREDIBLE. The place is tiny, fun, cool-looking, and you can play Mario at the bar, but beyond this, the burgers are filthy good. Like, really very very good.
DO double-check online for outdoor activities
We went to the Fjellheisen tramway to get up to Storsteinen – a mountain peak looking out over the city – and it looked pretty closed. We checked the schedule on the door and saw it opens 5 mins before the next trip. There were other tourists too, so we hung around playing in the snow, enjoying the fresh air and our first look at the city scape. It seemed like we had been there forever when someone smart enough announced that they had checked online and that it was closed for the day because of the weather. Ah, the internet.
DO take a quick peek at the Arctic Cathedral
It’s a beautiful cathedral very unlike any cathedral I’ve ever seen. It’s a quick visit and it’s probably the Northernmost cathedral in the world. (I don’t actually know if this is true, but many institutions in Tromso bear this accolade).
DON’T miss out on guzzling beer at the Northern-most Brewery in the World!
This is a cool brewery, guys. It has a ton of beer for drinking and tasting, a massive polar bear keeping a watchful eye, and some tasty reindeer meat sticks that we tried and were satisfied with. On that note…
DON’T expect to travel cheaply
The scandis know how to charge for food and drink. It’s really crazy expensive.
DO go thrifting
For us living not so crazy north, but still have to deal with a bit of winter chill, Tromso is a great place to get a winter coat. Joel picked up a pretty sweet suede jacket at the Salvation Army
DON’T go on a roadtrip
DO go on a roadtrip!
We woke up one morning fresh-faced and naïve, and set our sights on Abisko – a mountain town in the North of Sweden. What started out as a magical, snowy adventure later felt more like us defying the odds of death. We set off on our little roadtrip not knowing we were heading into a full on blizzard. It was a rollercoaster of emotions as we went between peaks of wonderment and awe at the white and blue landscape to dips of terrifying and complete white out as if we somehow crossed a threshold to a windy and disorienting afterlife, desperately trying to find the next red pole that marks the side of the road. We stuck it out and made it right to the mountain pass that borders Sweden and Norway, only to join a queue of other vehicles, waiting for the storm to give way. Eventually we were told that the pass will not open and we slowly drove back to lower ground, before we started the whole drive back to where we came from, back to Tromso, which is 3h30mins on Google maps, but you can tack on a few hours to that in a blizzard.
Lesson learnt – check the weather! It was stressful and exciting and terrifying and beautiful all at once so we are conflicted on this one and, as a Cape Townian and a Californian who are 100% unaccustomed to snow, we just glad we are alive.
DO come face-to-face with a fjord
Our unfortunate little roadtrip did bring us face-to-face with some spectacular wildlife and stunning natural landscape, one of which was the Beisfjord, south of Narvik.
DO visit the Polar Park (Arctic Wildlife Reserve)
But take heed of the weather if you have to drive there! We visited in blizzard conditions, and were amazed that the park was even open! So we reluctantly parked the car (being scared of being snowed in), and trudged through the thick armour of snow, sometimes barely even seeing anything past the white. But when we did see some animal life, it was all so worth it! After slopping around sort of aimlessly, our map getting more and more drenched every time we attempted to read it, we finally saw a group of three brown bears, greedily running over for attention, one adorably sitting down on its butt in the snow to stare at us. Shortly after we saw two packs of wolves (in separate enclosures), tails wagging and playing with each other like puppies (we later heard them howl as we made our way through the park). Bears, wolves, moose, deer, muskox – it was breathtaking to see these animals in their natural habitat weathering the storm.
DO stay at Tromso Bed and Books
The only bad thing about this place is that we only stayed one night. This is the coziest, loveliest, prettiest, most adorable little place we have ever stayed in. The rooms are all themed differently and the communal working space and library is just to die for.
Even after a whirlwind visit (literally), it was hard to pack up and go (especially after staying at Tromso Bed and Books), but we headed to the airport with full hearts, lasting memories, and valuable new lessons learnt. The weather let up just before our flight, and before we knew it we were back in our London apartment, still dreaming about shades of white and blue.